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Wednesday, April 7, 1999 Published at 19:50 GMT 20:50 UK

World: Europe

Russia's 'key role' in Kosovo

A burning fuel depot near Pristina after Nato air strikes

Russia has a major role to play in negotiating peace in Yugoslavia according to the German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer.

Kosovo: Special Report
Mr Fischer's comments followed news that Russian President Boris Yeltsin was backing consideration of Tuesday's declaration of a unilateral ceasefire by the Yugoslav government and that a Russian intelligence gathering warship had arrived in the Mediterranean.

Speaking at a news conference on Wednesday, Mr Fischer said: "European-Russian co-operation has great significance for ensuring security on the whole continent."

He said he hoped a ministerial meeting of six or eight major industrial nations, including Russia, could be scheduled in the next few days to discuss the Kosovo crisis.

The meeting was needed, he said, "so that we can work with the Russians on a joint peace effort".

"Russia can, should and must play an important role in taking the initiative."


In Moscow, it emerged that Mr Yeltsin had written a letter to the leaders of the G-7 countries - Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the US - urging them not to reject Belgrade's latest unilateral proposals for Kosovo out of hand.

[ image: Boris Yeltsin is on a 'diplomatic drive']
Boris Yeltsin is on a 'diplomatic drive'
The Kremlin said the letter spells out Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's ideas, and asks the leaders to be constructive.

A statement from the Kremlin said: "Yeltsin appealed urgently to the (G-7) leaders not to reject the new initiatives from the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia out of hand."

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said that the Yugoslav offer of a ceasefire must be accepted to "avert a looming threat to global peace".

He said Moscow was stepping up its diplomacy to find a peaceful solution.

Russia has called for a meeting of ministers from G-8, which consists of the G-7 countries and Russia.

Meeting hopes

Senior officials from G-8 are due to meet in Germany on Thursday, following a meeting of officials of the Contact Group on Yugoslavia in Brussels on Wednesday.

[ image: One of Russia's Black Sea Fleet warships]
One of Russia's Black Sea Fleet warships
The Contact Group brings together Russia and five Nato members - Britain, France, Germany, Italy and the US.

But Russia wants ministers, rather than officials of lower rank, to meet to discuss Kosovo,

Western diplomats said that if Moscow showed it was willing to work constructively, the West might accept its proposal for a joint ministerial meeting after Nato foreign ministers meet on Monday.

Warships ready

Russia opposes Nato's attacks on Yugoslavia, but has also stressed that it will not intervene in the conflict or provide military aid to Belgrade.

However, it has frozen its ties with Nato, and a Russian intelligence-gathering ship sent to monitor Nato forces in action against Yugoslavia has been reported to be near Nato's operational zone in the Adriatic.

News agencies reported on Wednesday that the Liman was already in the Mediterranean, but Russian television said that the vessel had arrived in the Adriatic.

It also said that seven Black Sea Fleet warships remained in a state of operational readiness waiting for orders to sail to the Mediterranean.

The television station quoted unofficial sources as saying the warships may head for the Adriatic on Saturday or Sunday.

Balkans expert and Director of Studies at Britain's Royal United Services Institute, Jonathan Eyal, said Russia would have a "key diplomatic role" to play in the Kosovo crisis.

He said: "Milosevic is going to use Russia because he has no diplomatic relations with the West, and Russia will have to ultimately indicate whether Milosevic is genuinely cracking.

"But Russia will first have to show it is prepared to work seriously."

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